The Left Front in India is caught in a 19th century view of the world, says historian Ramachandra Guha.
Left’s decision to keep away from the coalition governments of 1996 and 2004 did not allow it to do good work in the national interest that it could have otherwise, Guha says.
‘I think it has done some good things like the agrarian reforms in Bengal, but it has to shed its Leninist dogma. The Left Front till very late did not realise that it needed to play an entrepreneurial role, develop a new model where people could have been made a stakeholder. It made some serious mistakes,’ Guha says.
Guha’s new book, Patriots & Partisans, an anthology of essays and opinion write-ups – old and new – looks at the changing sensibilities of a modern India, where the liberal is fast losing his moderation in the rising din of partisan politics and conflicting forces.
The writer explores the dilemmas facing the growth of bi-lingualism in India, and talks about the four cardinal influences that sustained him as a intellectual: the Nehru Memorial Library, the Premier Bookstore in Bangalore, the Oxford University Press, and the Economic and Political Weekly.
The journey of the Left in India – in both its political and insurrectionist avatars – occupies Guha, who says he is ‘inclined to the Left’.
He puts the history of the Left movement in states like Bengal and Kerala under the scanner to point out what could have been.
‘They could have joined the government in 2004 and done some good work,’ Guha says.
Citing the ‘good work done by democratic socialists like Madhu Dandavate,’ Guha said the ‘Left was hamstrung by Leninist dogma’.
‘I wish there is serious introspection for an open-minded and technologically connected Left Front,’ he said.
The writer said that just as the CPI-M was crippled by Lenin, Maoism was ‘crippled by violence’.
‘Prachanda put down arms and joined the multi-party democracy in Nepal. But the (Indian Maoists) still do what Mao did in the 1930s. Maoists and the CPI-M are crippled by outmoded ideologies,’ Guha said.
The book throws light on the leadership of Lal Bahadur Shastri, the country’s second prime minister, who was in office between 1964-1966.
Had fate given Shastri a longer ‘innings as prime minister, the Indian economy may have been more robust and resilient’, Guha says.
‘He shifted C Subramaniam from the steel ministry to the agriculture portfolio. He was an outstanding minister. Shastri was trying to open up the agricultural sector. He gave India the slogan, Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan. But Shastri did not understand south India. He imposed Hindi on them,’ Guha says.
On his way to London in September 1964, after assuming the prime minister’s office in June that year, Shastri stopped at Karachi where he met Ayub Khan, then president of Pakistan, who saw Shastri as the ‘tiny man in a dhoti’ after the charismatic Jawaharlal Nehru.
But a year later, when Ayub Khan attacked India in 1965, Shastri opened a second plank in Punjab when the invaders threatened to overrun Kashmir. ‘He showed himself to be decisive war leader,’ Guha said.
In his book, Guha takes on dynastic politics.
Nehru did not much like ‘chamchas’ (sycophants) and did not start a dynasty either, Guha says.
‘It took the Congress a period of time to become dynastic. Former prime minister Indira Gandhi felt insecure. She had split the Congress and was showing signs of relying on a coterie. It was essentially a ‘kitchen cabinet’. Indira (Gandhi) took eight years to bring her son to politics,’ he says.
Congress showed the way for other parties, Guha said. ‘Bal Thackeray passed the baton to his son and Karunanidhi’s DMK, a party of social reforms, became a family party,’ he said.
Patriots & Partisans, published by Penguin India, was released in the capital Tuesday.